Story by Brooke Hill | Staff Writer, Video by Rylee Seavers | Broadcast Reporter
The expansion of Waco’s Riverwalk on the Brazos River is now expected to be open for Baylor’s final home game against Iowa State on Nov. 18.
The $5.7 million project is more than 200 days ahead of schedule, according to Tom Balk, the senior park planner. The extension completes a riverwalk connection between Brazos Park East and McLane Stadium.
“The contractors left room in their schedule to account for the possibility of heavy rain and flooding, which we’ve been fortunate enough to not experience much of this year. It’s been a problem in years past,” said John Williams, Waco’s Parks & Recreation director. “The way that it’s being constructed, it’s possible that even in the future some of this area would be underwater if heavy flooding was to occur. So the absence of bad weather is really what got the project so far ahead of schedule.”
An 80-foot canopy covers the riverwalk as it crosses under an active railroad bridge to prevent trains from pushing rocks or debris onto pedestrians or cyclists below.
The new 0.6-mile portion completes a 5.5 mile loop of riverwalk, Williams said. City leaders are meeting with the Texas Department of Transportation on Monday to finalize details and get the approval for the opening.
The vision for this plan has been ongoing for many years now, predating the opening of McLane Stadium, although it will indeed serve as a way to connect fans from one side of I-35 to the other.
“It’s not just about game day,” Balk said. “It’s been a long-standing goal for the city to have a continuous riverwalk around the downtown portion of Lake Waco there. This is a critical chunk that helps us complete the loop downtown. We’ve already got a big project continuing upstream past Brazos Park East. That’s been a desire and a vision for Waco that’s probably 20 years old.”
The long-range vision is to keep going upstream all the way to the Lake Waco dam, according to Balk. In the future, the goal is to reach the Waco Mammoth Site, and later complete the few miles left between there and the Lake Waco dam.
Balk said that the trail will provide citizens with a way to enjoy the water and the views without having to worry about traffic or cars.
“I think the main value that these trails really have for Waco and the enjoyment of the Brazos River is that it gets people off surface streets. It gets people off sidewalks and puts them closer to the water,” Balk said. “It also keeps them separated from traffic so it’s safer, so you can jog, push strollers, ride your bike, whatever and not really have to worry about street crossings. It’s a safe environment for really enjoying the trails. The other nice thing about it is that in this particular segment of the trail it puts you out over the water. It offers some views and opportunities that aren’t available on the older portions of the trail that are all built on land.”
Balk said they should have a more definitive schedule within a week.